"C.O.W. - Computer On Wheels"This year has been quite transformational for me. I started the year Questioning Everything… especially the idea that we need to teach less and learn more. I’ve challenged late penalties, homework, and even AUP’s. I’ve talked about things becoming more open and distributed and I’ve even written an Open Manifesto. I’ve cautioned about flipping classes, I’ve seen a flip in my desired pro-d model… and now I’m flipping my perspective on C.O.W.’s:

C.O.W. = ‘Computers On Wheels’, essentially a mobile cart which has a combination of a projector with a computer.

Two years ago in August I moved to a school in China and quickly began advocating for every teacher to get a laptop and LCD (actually the cheaper DLP’s – Digital Light Processing) Projectors. Before requesting this we had 3 C.O.W.’s, in a building with 4 floors, that 19 teachers shared. I presented a case to the school’s owner and convinced him to purchase DLP projectors and netbooks for our teachers. He provided 11 more projectors for our 14 ‘homerooms’ and also provided every teacher with a school netbook. We also had to improve the wireless and upgrade our server. All but one of the projectors were mounted in classrooms, with one being left as a COW so that it could be moved to and from the gym or activity room when needed.

The reality is that there is no place in education anymore for the mobile C.O.W. to be shared between teachers!

It just isn’t a useful model.

For a projector to be a truly tranformative tool that’s worthwhile, it needs to be available at any given moment AND the teacher needs to have full access to the computer that links to it… that’s why I also provided my teachers with netbooks. There are great tools like diigo to bookmark your links and dropbox to transfer files and even usb drives to share things, but we are still at a point where teachers tend to find these slow them down or add work to their planning. So, providing teachers with a laptop/netbook that they can pre-load with everything they need (before a lesson) invites greater interaction and use by them and hopefully also by students. As I suspected, the ability to take the netbook home created opportunities for teachers to experiment with technology far more than I’d seen prior to the netbooks and projectors arriving.

Having a shared C.O.W. is a flawed model… it doesn’t work because, as a teacher, when I had to share a projector I was far less likely to develop lessons that required projector use, and I think a projector is a key teaching tool in today’s classrooms. As a principal, I preferred to see the computers be fully mobile and in the hands of teachers at all times, rather than just when they used the projector and/or sat at their desks.

The C.O.W. is dead… But so is my model of mounting projectors in a room…

Long live the P.O.W. ~ Projectors on Wheels! Take the computer off the cart and put it in teachers’ hands. Take the projector off of the ceiling mount and put it on wheels. Why?

– The projector, without the computer invites both teachers and students to use their computers with the projector.

– Move the projector into different learning spaces.

– Remove the white screen as the ‘Front’ of the room… allow the projector to be used in smaller groups, smaller spaces and different spaces.

– a mobile projector (especially coupled with BYO Laptops) allows as much student engagement as an IWB – Interactive White Board… but is more mobile. (And it’s a heck of a lot cheaper!)

However, effective use of a P.O.W. takes a transformation of practice because the blackboard… that became the green board… that became the whiteboard… that became the projector… still put the teacher as the central disseminator of knowledge. Putting a projector on wheels will only be transformational if students get to use the tool and to move it into useful spaces to work in small groups as well as with the entire class.

In reality, it isn’t just the projectors that should go on wheels! I’m excited to see wheels on desks and chairs and wall-dividers and anything that helps to create interesting learning spaces for students… but that’s a whole other post! 😉

21 comments on “The COW is dead… Long live the POW?

  1. There was never a place for computers on wheels(C.O.W.) because the state of the laptops was too unpredictable, no/low batteries, plugin updates, and roller coaster wireless access undermined this model. Projectors of wheels has more potential.

  2. Don’t hate me because I’m spoiled with 1:1 laptops, ceiling projectors, and IWBs. Like you said, computers on the hands of every teacher is critical for planning and instruction using tech.

    I’m trying to picture how I’d manage without my own ceiling projector. I’m wondering if the decision for POWs vs. ceiling mounts had to do with numbers of classrooms in a school. I have a hard enough time sharing a rolling cart of subject-specific books with my nine 5th grade colleagues.

    How do you manage the sharing of POWs in your situation. Do you belive they are used to their full extent?

  3. As an interesting point to this great post, in my room, although the projector is mounted, my computers can transmit wirelessly to the projector. All the time I am telling a student to “throw that up on the screen and show everyone what you just did.” I don’t have a lot of space in my room on the walls and so this works great for me. I totally agree that it should be simple for a student to put their work up in multiple display formats. Makes sense.

  4. Thanks for the comments,

    Jannet, I LOVE that you are spoiled with 1-1 and even a ceiling projector and IWB. You have been given ‘wings’ and judging from a quick look at your blog, you and your students all get to ‘fly’ as a result!

    I know for a fact that the original idea behind a COW for most schools was a cost-effective form of sharing and as Kathreen points out… perhaps there never was a place for COWs in education in the first place.

    As for my POW suggestion, I do NOT think that they should be shared but rather that EVERY class should have one… If this were to be used to cost-effectively share, then the model is again flawed and personally I’d rather see the projectors mounted.

    To be honest I’m not in a position (yet) to have tried POWs, this has been a concept I’ve been thinking about due to a project I’m working on… Something I’ll share a lot more about on my blog (soon)! 🙂

    When Vicki says this about her mounted projector, “I don’t have a lot of space in my room on the walls and so this works great for me.” then I think a ceiling mount is actually convenient to get the mobile cart out of the way! I also love the idea of wireless transmission so that students have easy assess to the projector.

    A small classroom size is a huge consideration that I overlooked in writing this post. However as new schools are built and the traditional look of the classroom changes, as furniture itself becomes more mobile and as learning spaces become more ‘unconventional’, I think there is a new place for Projectors On Wheels.

  5. Of course, I was thinking about this today and now some cell phones have projectors. Also, with the super, mini’s you don’t even need wheels. You could keep it in a drawer and pull it out to project on the wall. 😉

  6. This year I used Diigo to create students’ portfolios. It was almost the end of the year and some of my students still didn’t understand how to use it. I asked one of them, Eric, to teach how to bookmark. He just stood up, connected his own netbook to the projector and started to demonstrate. He did not ask for permission, he did that so naturally! I was fascinated.

    Had never thought of having a mobile projector. Now I’m picturing how different the classroom space might look. We are creating lots of new online learning spaces, I think it’s great to mix those digital spaces with physical ones.

  7. Love it and love it!

    The only reasons I’d want a cart rather than just the projector on it’s own is the convenience of cord management and also the safety/security of the device ~ less likely to be ‘bumped’ off of a table or to ‘walk’ out with someone. That said, I love the idea of just having a (rugged), battery powered, wireless, mobile projector all on it’s own!

    It’s wonderful that your student felt comfortable doing that… says a lot about the great learning environment his teacher provides! 🙂
    If I could sum up just ONE reason for a Projector On Wheels, then I’d use your words:

    “Now I’m picturing how different the classroom space might look. We are creating lots of new online learning spaces, I think it’s great to mix those digital spaces with physical ones.”

    I think that a mobile POW invites us to think creatively about utilizing learning spaces in great new ways!

    Thank you both so much for continuing the conversation!

  8. Hi Dave. I’m a little mixed on the POW idea. I agree COW’s are not the future and that they really served (or serve depending on one’s context) as a cost effective entry point. As you know, I advocate strongly that all teachers need their own laptop and classroom projector.

    But, for teachers, to not have the projector mounted creates complexity. It’s like having an IWB on wheels – gets less use ’cause it’s harder to use.

    For students, probably not a big deal. I think once projectors are smaller, more powerful, battery operated, and wireless, we’ll have the answer you’re looking for. Might be a few years yet but… Apple TV and built-in wireless projectors are showing the way re: connectivity. I haven’t seen a battery operated model yet though – may be a while since the power requirements are quite high… but we can hope.

    Maybe a mounted projector and some shared POWs would be a good approach, for now?

  9. Hi David,

    I agree with you that COWs are out. We still use some in our elementary school, but I can certainly see why teachers find them to be a pain to work with. Splitting up the carts and sharing them to individual rooms has been more productive for teachers overall (they can still move them between classrooms for when they need a full classroom set).

    As for POWs, we have them in our school and we are trying to phase them out where we can. They are a nuisance in many ways, but we started with them because they are much cheaper than mounted projectors (apparently mounting a projector is a pretty expensive thing to do). What I see is a lot of people using the projector from exactly the same place, every day, which is a sign that a mounted projector would work just as well.

    What we do like about our POWs is the flexibility of being able to easily use a projector in a room that does not normally have a projector in it.

  10. Brian & David,

    Thanks, I really appreciate the pushback!

    So, I’m left with a couple questions:

    Does the flexibility of a mobile projector justify the challenges it offers or lack of convenience of a mounted projector?

    I guess it depends on the learning environment(s) and perhaps also on teacher practice. In an ideal situation maybe a fixed touchscreen and additional portable/mobile projector would be ideal. Until we reach that point…

    I wonder if a fixed, mounted projector won’t hinder creative uses of learning spaces?

  11. When I had POW, I was constantly moving it out of the way in our crowded classroom. Having set up a number of flexible learning spaces actually got in the way. We all found ourselves bumping into it and the need to have it far enough from the wall for the group to see the projection meant needing to put the cart in some pretty inconvenient places. Power cords on the floor posed a tripping hazard and I just didn’t bother going through the process as often as I wanted to use the projector. Also, I have very few blank spaces on the walls due to shelving, windows, doors, bulletin boards, etc. so I still ended up projecting in the same few places over and over again.

    Now, I have a ceiling-mounted short-throw projector with open space in front of the IWB that can be configured however we want it for the lesson or discussion at hand (small discussion group with chairs and a table on wheels, reading group, whole class, etc.). Rather than have the projector moveable, I’ve tried to make as much of the classroom furniture and space flexible and moveable.

    I would happily toss the IWB in the nearest trash heap but the projector is now a classroom essential. Whether sharing the “teacher” laptop (yes, I DO let my students use my computer) or having students plug in any of the class set of iPads, we use it constantly to share. Students don’t see the projector as being “mine,” it is definitely “ours,” and iPads connect and disconnect quickly and easily.

    I would love the ability to use a wireless connection. Maybe I can trade my IWB for a projector upgrade?

    PS: My next project is to find a way to add locking casters to my incredibly heavy reading group table so that it can be more easily moved to take advantage of the projector.

  12. Diana,
    Very interesting! So, rather than making the projector mobile, keep it at a fixed place, projected on an ideal surface, with an out-of-the-way-and-mounted projector then use mobile furniture to create the needed learning spaces in front of the screen. Thanks for really challenging my thinking on this!

  13. In a world of infinite budgets for education, I’d recommend having a couple of mobile projectors on hand for flexibility, and mounted projectors wherever you expect them to be used often. If I had to choose between the two, I’d go for the mounted projector option.

    I also recommend having a very portable projector (at least 1) in the school for when you have staff that will be presenting at other schools or conferences.

  14. Yes, David, that’s where I’m leaning now with the influence of the last few comments. Fixed locations blended with flexible options. I’ve also been thinking about ‘Idea Paint’ to compliment the flexibility where a wall is both a writing space and a projector space. I’m still trying to push the idea that pehaps a flexible choice beyond the fixed projector location can invite innovation… But, as Diana suggests, maybe this can still be fully challenged without the projector going mobile, especially since the idea of the projector being out of the way may actually invite greater flexibility. I love when I hash things out on my blog and then my thoughts are challenged… a collective ‘we’ are just so much smarter than just me!

  15. Not that I’m adding anything new here that hasn’t already been mentioned, but I’m going to comment anyway… 🙂
    I’m with David Wees on this one. I love having mounted projectors in classrooms (including the one in my computer explorations lab, which is in the library). In the various schools that I’ve worked in over the past 5 years, I’ve found that having a projector (as a permanent fixture) in a room has lead to it being used more often, as teachers will often create lessons that utilize the technology available to them. If access to something is a problem, one is less likely to make plans to use it.
    Our school population has declined (unfortunately) but this has left us with a couple of extra projectors. These are on carts and allow us to use them in spaces that (a) don’t have a projector or (b) occasionally require an extra one.
    Best of both worlds.

  16. Love this conversation David! In my classroom I am fortunate to have not only a P.O.W. but also a S.O.W. that’s a Smartboard on wheels. The teacher next door and I share this back and forth. Also it allows me to have no actual “front” to my room. I can be working on the white board at one end and have the smartboard set up on the opposite end. If it was fixed to the wall I might be limited to that!:)

  17. Michal,
    Yes, yes, yes!
    “In the various schools that I’ve worked in over the past 5 years, I’ve found that having a projector (as a permanent fixture) in a room has lead to it being used more often, as teachers will often create lessons that utilize the technology available to them. If access to something is a problem, one is less likely to make plans to use it.”

    Although I was thinking ‘mobile’, I think sharing is not ideal… Beyond that, my thinking has shifted thanks to these great comments! ‘Mobile’ only if there are multiple options to project, if not a mounted projector with wireless access (something I thought was still too expensive, but apparently isn’t any more).

    Jonathan (imaginefunlearning) – Having visited your classroom, I mean ‘island’, I have to say that I love what you are doing and certainly hope that you continue sharing on your new blog: A Place to Learn

    I’m uncertain from your comment whether you have either a P.O.W. or a S.O.W. in your room or if it is just the Smartboard rather than the projector on wheels… and you share just the one with the teacher next door. Sharing is better than not having anything, but I think every teacher having one projector at any time should eventually be as essential as a white/blackboard.

    Thanks to all who have commented and pushed my thinking!

  18. I enjoyed the article and can honestly say that I haven’t met a teacher who hasn’t gone from wanting a projector (or LCD TV) to wondering how they taught without it, in a hurry. Mounted solutions seem better as there will be less support needed and also ultimately less frustration. I like the idea of Apple TV, and the screen mirroring on an iPad would be amazing if a teacher could do that. A projector or TV in every class seems to be the answer… eventually.

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